Review: AREA CC (Advanced Real Estate Adventure Coco), by Alex Degen, published by Snakebomb Comix
What can one say about the fabulous Mr. Degen that hasn’t already been expressed elsewhere on the internet? Actually, quite a bit, since no one says anything.
Look at this master of the silent satire. :O How can an image with so few words suggest so much? Look, I’ll show you. This comic is made in Black and White. Binary, suckers. If you think this cheapens the artifact.. then you are literally quite wrong. Set within a map fragment of the land of Nova Zomia we’re destined to follow a fleeing star. The titular Coco..
Fleeing. Actually, can we talk about Nova Zomia for a sec? Let’s think about the title. Zomia is a realish Earth place. No joke, google it. And from what I can tell there seems to be a debate around the stateless region of Zomia as to whether the position is an advantage or a kind of forced retreat for the nationless people. And you remember what Nova means, right? Like a supernova: Expansion of a star that returns to its original state. My phone dictionary says, “a star that suddenly increases its light output tremendously and then fades away to its former obscurity in a few months or years.” Brutal. I’m thinking like, revolution gone wrong and we still chill in the mall. The setting for AREA CC feels like a twilight suburbia that, at all costs, has devolved into a playground for the rich and evil. Too familiar?
In an interview once, as a young man, Art Spiegelman said that in order for him understand a new comic it had to present an initial sense of structure. That structure was the gateway for him to even begin to read the work. Sure, sounds good. Luckily, AD seems attuned to this gateway business so Spieg can casually enjoy his new experience. Seriously, I mean the book defines its own sense of structure and narrative so clearly that I can’t help but view it as some kind of parody of an advertising venture or a pitch for a really enjoyable and addicting video game. It’s almost too easy to read. It’s like watching a movie. As the most superficial example, the book is divided into seven poetic pauses or “Areas” and a single dropping of the white flag. 8 real chapters. The cover is a death and an empty face. Are you suprised that the book starts with a non-being? Noova. What do I mean by non-being? Look at that line pattern on the cover. The only other place I see those lines are in the assembley “Showroom” section (aka Chapter 6), suggesting to me that Coco is some kind of freaky aborted clone or something, meant to be packaged up and shipped off as a product or tool, but she escaped. Or did she? Remember, there are many ways one can be fictionally used.
Wait wait, honestly, I don’t know if I can finish this review. I could go on and on about the details and tiny suprises of this book but that just doesn’t seem.. appropriate. Instead, here are some fragments of thought from an abandoned review, emails and notes written almost a year ago. I think they will fill in enough gaps and add closure to my life and hopefully a spark of interest for the curious:
AD works in the realm of satire and surreliasm. I just read a review by Ursula K Le Guin where she talks about a Bolaño book where his surrealist devices seem old-fashioned and overly cinematic but the depth of the political story overwhelms anything extravagent about the storytelling. I think that applies here.
AREA CC is built around binaries and acronyms. The gap between an acronym and knowledge. Good vs evil. Black vs white. But subverts that. AREA CC compares patterns. Is Coco good? Or evil? Or neither? Coco seems very neutral. Open close/open close. OCOC. She cancels herself out. Exists inside the system as a non-entity. The people who pose the most threat to a system are the one who live inside its border but are not recognized as citizens of that state. Moving through, that’s all Coco can do. yahoo!
AREA CC as a comic about making comics and there’s no question storytelling is one of its major concerns. Appropriating the language of comics and TV and game cultures, like the best of all satire. It’s really learned in its ways. Is this natural or unquestioned? It feels so casual but the whole book is setup to encourage questioning. It’s too easy. To question the power dynamics inherent in certain forms of storytelling. Considering the book is so rigorously constructed I’d assume there’s a grand intent but you never know and that’s even better. Leaving it up in the air, like a cypher. (I know now).
The video game logic of starting a new level. How cinematic action panels add to the reader’s feeling of coasting. Canted angels. How the wires affect all these people’s lives. They’re ‘living’ in a cellblock but it’s more like they’re being preserved. Is Coco really escaping death? Or has she just returned to an unrecognized state, unchained in a careless land.
I keep repeating the phrase “ornate vs symbol” when I think about Alex’s work. Well, his name is a whole ‘nother thing that works on that level… same with the title. A. Degen. Alex Degen. AD. AREA CC. Advance Real Estate Coco. Redundancy. The gap between acronym and content… in various ways. But like, ornate vs symbol as an understood burden of the comics landscape.. basically like, how so often “time and detail” somehow equate to “value” in most people’s understanding of comics. “I put so much work into this page”. But it almost seems like Alex is avoiding or subverting these tropes… like Coco. Escaping.. or being funneled down a manufacturing tube, and ultimately using that whole process against itself. The pages and panels aren’t endlessly worked over but very considered and precise despite the wobbily line. Patterns not textures. A true beauty of a cartoon language. “Stuffing the bad guy in the wallpaper”, y’know? I’m sure you know.
The gun starts blowing itself up.
A man paints a hologram of a tree.
She finds the exit quickly
but Death dies and Not me.
AREA CC is currently SOLD OUT. (2/23/13) Start your quest. But consider supporting the artist and publisher by other unsolicited means: